University of New South Wales
Faculty of Law - Computerisation
Computerisation of Law
Reading Guide - Public Policy and Standards for Legal Information
Last updated 27 October 2000
= Required reading. All other
links indicate optional reading.
The objectives of this topic are for you to understand the policy issues
concerning public access to legal information, and the significance of
standards for the computerisation of legal information.
Some topics include:
Public policies in access to case law, legislation and other public legal
documents - comparisons between Australia and elsewhere.
Case citation standards - vendor and medium-neutral citation.
Standards for mark-up of legal documents (meta-tags and others).
Standards for dissemination of judgments.
2. Public policies on access to legal information
2.1. Australian policies
In 1994 there was virtually no free access to any primary legal information
in Australia. Australian courts, tribunals, legislatures and governments
now lead the world in providing free access to legal information.
2.2. Other national policies
3. Standards for legal information (introduction)
3.1. General references
4. Standards for XML legal documents
Extensible Markup Language (XML) allows communities of users to define
standards for putting structured data into text files such as web pages.
XML is widely seen as the best way forward (from HTML) to build more advanced
methods of sharing and presentation legal information via the Internet:
XML applications to law and legal documents.
'Legal XML' , however, is used to refer to an organisation which
promotes the use of XML for legal documents, and is attempting to develop
standards for various types of XML documents for law (court filing standards,
judgment standards etc). Details of Lexag XML are below, but the organisation
should not be confused with the more general use of XML in law.
Background to the use of XML for legal documents:
4.1. The 'Legal XML' organisation
Details of the organisation of Legal XML follow, and details of some its
standard-setting efforts are in the sections below.
The Legal XML site discusses a wide
range of uses of XML in law, many to do with Court technologies, but also
covering proposed standards for legislation and case law. See in particular:
XML: Operating Rules - all participants in Legal XML must agree to
these rules; note that they are intended to operate as an assignment of
copyright in certain information contributed to Legal XML discussions.
Legal XML Australia has
been set up as a working group of Legal XML, and is the only country-specific
workgroup as yet (one is being formed in Germany). Its aim is to encourage
Australians to learn about legal XML, to share information about initiatives
in the development of legal standards and the use of Legal XML in Australia.
The group will also identify tags that are peculiar to Australia and make
those tags known to other vertical groups. See in particular:
5. Standards for citation of cases
The benefits of a Court-designated method of citing cases (as distinct
from citations devised by individual legal publishers) is summarised in
Greenleaf, Mowbray and King Need
for a court-designated case citation standard (in The AustLII Papers,
1997) (also adopted by Lazberger, 2000, below).
5.1. Australian standards
Australia is one of the most advanced countries in the world in the use
of Court-designated citations (medium-neutral and vendor-neutral), due
to the adoption by the Council of Chief Justices of Australia and New Zealand
(20 October 1997) of a citation standard, following (but not identical
to) a proposal put forward to the Council by AustLII. The High Court of
Australia was the first court to use the standard, from 1 Jan 1998.
5.2. Other national attempts at standards
BAILII uses Court designators agreed
to between AustLII and the Courts concerned in Britain and Ireland. These
designators, and the citations based on them used on BAILII, have become
a defacto standard for court designators and citations in Britain and Ireland.
Daniel Poulin (LexUM, University of Montreal, Canada) A
neutral citation standard for case law  CompLRes 38 (Paper presented
at AustLII's "Law Via The Internet '99" conference)
Francis Johns, (LEXIS Marketing Manager, Australia) Citator
Wars - Tracing the golden web online: The US experience  CompLRes
5.3. Moves toward global standards
A first step, not yet taken, is to develop a global set of unique Court
designators. It may not be possible.
The AustLII / Cornell LII Distributed
citation resolver proposal (diagrams by Philip Chung, 2000) - this
is a proposal for a networked mechanism for finding cases on the web, irrespective
of which citation for the case you are aware. It is a large scale 'parallel
6. Standards for judgments
These standards cover the preparation, distribution and presentation of
6.1 Australian standards
6.2 International standards
7. Standards for court filing and 'electronic appeal
See the Study Guide - Litigation Support and Court Technologies for developments
in court filing in Australia.
There is a very considerable amount of activity in the development
of standards for use of XML for court filing in the USA:
8. Standards for legislation
Various Offices of Parliamentary Counsel have had developed SGML DTD (Document
Type Descriptions) for legislation, but these have not yet been standardised.
9. Website useability and disability standards